Some aspects of the Biden administration’s Coronavirus-related safety policies for federal workplaces may be subject to negotiations, says new guidance that tells agencies to involve HR and legal counsel offices to determine whether contracts create such obligations.
The guidance, in a question and answer format, expands on an executive order and a subsequent OMB memo covering a wide range of workplace practices including adherence to CDC standards in wearing of protective masks and in social distancing practices, along with arrangement of workstations, occupancy limits, work scheduling, and more.
“Agencies should promptly notify their unions of the actions they intend to take to require compliance with CDC guidelines to provide a meaningful opportunity for the unions to consult as provided in [Biden’s order]. As part of this effort, agencies are encouraged to provide their draft plans to unions in order to provide a meaningful opportunity for the unions to consult,” says guidance issued by an interagency task force newly created by that order.
“The agency should begin communicating with the appropriate union representatives as soon as possible and otherwise satisfy any applicable collective bargaining obligations under the law at the earliest opportunity, including on a post-implementation basis if appropriate,” it says. “If an agency determines that these matters are already covered by an existing collective bargaining agreement and collective bargaining is not required, agencies are reminded to satisfy their consultation obligations, as appropriate.”
Further, agencies “generally have the discretion to authorize official time over and above any official time authorized in current collective bargaining agreements. This may depend, in some measure, on the precise terms of, and possible limitations in, an applicable collective-bargaining agreement,” it says, adding that this too is a matter for involvement of HR and legal counsel offices.
Agencies are to continue to adhere to any contract terms that provide for more stringent safety standards than are required under CDC guidance, it adds.